Maslen on Marketing

Why the PCN was wrong to introduce the secret copywriter blog

I have been writing since 28 July 1968, which puts me at about six-and-a-half.

You can see my earliest scribblings below. (My amanuensis was my uncle John – my handwriting wasn’t as good as his, as you can see.)


Ever since then, I have signed every single piece that I was able to. Obviously, my copywriting is unsigned, although I show it off in client stories on the Sunfish website.

And now the Professional Copywriters’ Network has launched its Secret Copywriter blog. This makes me deeply uncomfortable. Why?

Because I don’t like the idea of anonymous writing.

To me, it smacks of poison pen letters, ransom demands, trolling and, more to the point, moaning.

Why would you need to post an article on your professional association’s website and not sign it? Well, the clue comes from tweets from the PCN to me when I asked this question:

“The idea is to enable people to share experiences, criticisms and reflection that might otherwise harm their professional profile or show organisations (including their clients) in a bad light.” [My italics.]

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 05.11.11


So, we’re being encouraged to publish articles that, were we to sign them, would make people think less of us or our clients?

Sorry, this is unprofessional in the extreme.

Why would you do that? Why would you publish an article that anybody on planet Earth with a smartphone could read (including, incidentally, your clients) that, were they to know you’d written it, would damage your reputation, or that of your clients?

More to the point, if you have to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, why publish at all?

That makes it sound to me suspiciously like bitching, whining or screaming, “It’s not fair!” in the middle of Trafalgar Square. While masked.

I visited the PCN site to find out more and found this rationale:

“Our aim is to create a space for members to raise important issues for discussion in the copywriting community. We want to hear about things like:

  • your experiences of finding employment, freelance work and placements, and any barriers or discrimination you have encountered
  • the highs and lows of copywriting life
  • mistakes you have made and what you have learnt from them.”

That’s all very laudable, as far as it goes, although the use of the word ‘space’ in this case makes me think of the current debate rumbling in academia about the creation of ‘safe spaces’ where students can exist in a bubble without having to hear ideas or opinions or even facts they find upsetting.

But why does it have to be anonymous?

Surely, if you have experiences to share about finding employment, you could sign them?

And if you have met discrimination on any grounds other than competence, that is a matter for the courts, not a blog post.

Ditto the highs and lows of copywriting life. I have had plenty of those and have written often about them under my own name.

As for mistakes, where do I start? I have written, and signed, dozens of articles about real stinkers I have made, from arguing with clients while jetlagged to boring the pants off important corporate executives.

At no point did I think it would harm my ‘professional profile’ to admit to them.

I feel that the PCN is being disingenuous in suggesting that it might promote debate. Signed articles would do that too.

I suspect the real motivation is to give their members an opportunity to complain about things they don’t like without putting their heads above the parapet.

But my real beef is with the other reason the PCN advances for the need for secrecy: that it might show clients in a bad light.

I love my clients. They pay for my clothes, my children’s food, our dog’s visits to the vet: everything. I do not have a private income, so I rely for my and my family’s wellbeing on our continued profitable and good-tempered relationships with clients.

Why would I want to show them in a bad light?

Yes, there have been moments in my career when I wanted to walk out of a meeting. Or throw things.

One of my favourites was a time when a marketing executive roughly half my age rejected a suggestion I had made, saying, “I think I know what I’m talking about; I do have two years experience in marketing, you know”.

I was also constructively dismissed from my job as a marketing director while on holiday.

I have sat in a board meeting while a man with a God complex told me that I was either a liar or stupid for presenting him with my findings from an audit of his marketing department.

And, only last year I received feedback on an email I had written for a client, where the feedback consisted of her having deleted everything between ‘Hi Mr Sample’ and ‘Kind regards’, with the deathless instruction, ‘please write something different’.

And do you know what I did?

1 I bit my tongue.

2 I explained what I’d done and why in a measured and reasonable tone of voice.

3 I rewrote the email.

Because they were paying!

What I didn’t do was write anonymous articles that might show these people who had kindly given me paying work “in a bad light”.

And yes, I am now publicising the fact. But it’s on my blog. With my name above the door.

What would happen if someone referred to in a secret copywriter article recognised themselves (and therefore the author)?

How would it make them feel? Would they dismiss the PCN, and its members, as whiny losers with nothing better to do than snipe under the guise of anonymity?

As a client, I would.

This is the wrong way to go in promoting the interests of copywriters.

We should be optimistic, outgoing, positive, celebratory, and above all professional.

If the PCN is serious about wanting to be seen as copywriters’ organisation then it needs to look closely at what the first letter of its name stands for and adopt a professional stance over relations with clients and the world in general.


4 Comment(s)


    I agree. If you can’t put your name to something, what benefit would you get from even posting it?

    15th January 2016 at 8:43 am | Reply
  2. Andrew Nattan

    I don’t often disagree with you Andy, but I’m going to here.

    I think that rubbishing the whole idea of anonymous blogging because, on the basis of one post about recruiters, “it MIGHT show clients in a bad light” is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    The one post that’s been published isn’t about clients at all. It’s about recruitment agencies.

    Is that useful, professional advice? Yes.
    Does it bring the industry into ill repute? No.

    I don’t particularly think there’s a need for that post to be anonymous, but I can see that there’s a reason people would want to post anonymously.

    For example, Copywriter X has great experience at dealing with poor paying clients. (S)he has developed a system for when to just throw his/her hands up and say “sod it, not worth the time pursuing this. Credit note and move on.”

    Is that useful information for other professionals? Yes.
    Does it bring the industry into ill repute? No.
    Would you want your name on a piece about “How not to pay me?” Possibly not. And there’s less chance of a client reading an industry website than your own blog.

    Some of us are ironclad. Ben Locker’s written movingly about his mental health. You’re not afraid of taking a shotgun to sacred cows. I like rants that upset Pinterest users. We’re happy to put our name to our work. And that’s great.

    Some people aren’t. Some people get a bit twitchy about being slightly controversial. And if they have something thought-provoking to say and want to do it anonymously, that’s fine. If the PCN want to publish it, and it meets their editorial standards, that’s great too.

    As long as those editorial standards are high (and they have been for named posts), I can’t see this being a free-for all “this is why clients are bastards” buffet.

    15th January 2016 at 9:48 am | Reply
  3. Martin Harrison

    Great post Andy. I eagerly await the first ‘content mill’ horror story to be published. Maybe next you could tackle the thorny issue of ownership at the PCN…

    “PCN is a wholly owned subsidiary of (Tom Albrighton’s firm) ABC Business Communications Ltd” –

    26th January 2016 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  4. Nicoleta

    Hi Andy,
    I bought & read one of your books and I am shocked to see how much I learnt and improved after studying your copywriting tips. It is one of the best book I have ever read and have no enough words to express my gratitude.
    My writing struggles-gone!
    My vague ideas-gone!
    My lack in inspiration-history!

    Thank you a lot!

    12th March 2016 at 5:44 pm | Reply

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